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New Treatments For West Nile Virus Could Come From CU Anschutz Research

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)- Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora have made a discovery that could pave the way to potential new treatments for the West Nile virus.

Researchers have found how the most severe forms of West Nile cause memory loss.

The study, published in the journal Nature, shows that 50 percent of patients who survive the most damaging kind of West Nile infection often go on to develop memory loss, learning difficulties, a lack of concentration and irritability.

Researchers discovered the virus doesn't kill off neurons but sparks inflammation that keeps the synapses, the connections that carry messages between nerve cells, from firing.

"What we found in mice, and later confirmed in humans, is that it's not the death of cells that causes memory loss, it's the loss of nerve cell connections," said study co-author Kenneth Tyler, MD, chairman of the department of neurology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine said in a statement. "The viral infection activates microglial cells and complement pathways which are helping to fight the infection but in turn end up destroying synapses."

Researchers found that mice infected with West Nile had a difficult time negotiating their way out of a maze that healthy mice figured out much faster. Researchers later found the infected mice suffered significant damage to their synapses.

Scientists examined brain tissue from humans who died from West Nile and found the same thing.

Only about 100 people infected with the disease develop the most severe form, acute viral encephalitis.

Last year, Colorado had 101 cases of West Nile.

LINK: Colorado Department of Health's West Nile Virus Page

Additional Information From The Colorado Department Of Public Health And Environment

To help prevent West Nile virus infection, follow the four D's:

– DRAIN standing water around your house weekly. Remember to drain water from tires, cans, flowerpots, clogged rain gutters, rain barrels, toys and puddles.
– DUSK and DAWN are when mosquitoes are most active. Limit outdoor activities and take precautions to prevent mosquito bites during these times.
– DEET is an effective ingredient to look for in insect repellents. Always follow label instructions carefully.
– DRESS in long sleeves and pants in areas where mosquitoes are active.
For more information about West Nile virus, visit FightTheBiteColorado.com.

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